This week, members of the U.S. History and AP U.S. History classes gathered in the theater for a simulated Constitutional Convention. Every student played a role as either an individual convention delegate or representative of a larger social group, or “class,” whose perspectives were or should have been considered at the first Constitutional Convention. These included farmers, planters, bankers and merchants, workers, enslaved African Americans, and women.
To prepare for the debate, students researched the economic, political, and social views and beliefs of their given position and represented their individual and group based on their findings. At the beginning of the debate, each group was given an opportunity to share their “manifesto” which had to describe why they believed the Articles of Confederation needed to be ratified, as well as their economic, political, and social views. Students were encouraged to be both historically accurate and to add some of their own flair and creativity to their character. The convention then opened up for debate, and students were encouraged to reach a compromise much like the ones the Founding Fathers were called upon to make in 1789.
Nele ‘PG, one of the students assigned to play the role of George Washington, orchestrated an educational environment that encouraged students’ critical thinking skills by asking follow up questions and bringing up larger systemic problems. Koda ‘25 advocated for bankers' rights to cash advances for individual banks trying to get their feet off the ground. Another highlight included Elijah ‘26, who represented the farmers; they requested government aid for supplies to help feed the country and the economy. Finally, Jack ‘26 spoke with great eloquence when representing the enslaved African Americans; he advocated for their suffrage and land reparation.
Overall, the convention was a success and the delegates reached a compromise. While some concepts remained the same – three branches of government and a central bank, the student’s Constitution differed from that of 1789 in some key ways. For example, a number of students argued for a different tax system that was scaled based on economic status, i.e. less taxes for the poor and more for the rich, and many of the students fought to create a Constitution that included African Americans and women, and had persuasive reasoning to do so. The students often stepped outside their characters and shared their own viewpoints and beliefs, which, although not planned, definitely made the debate more unique and special.